(First chapter of this space-opera-in-progress is HERE.)
New Wallstreet Station
Sol Alliance Jurisdiction
March 17th, 2400 AD, Terra Standard
Tevyn woke clutching his chest, looking for the giant spear of carbon pinning him to his crash chair.
His hand found nothing but unbroken skin. After a moment of confusion he sat up to look around.
He was in a bedroom.
A soft feminine groan came from next to him and his wife Allison turned over and looked up at him.
Tevyn stared at her, taking in her faintly polynesian features in the semi-dark. He reached out a hand to touch her face, tracing a sharp eyebrow, a subtle cheekbone. She cupped her own over it, pinning his hand against her warm reality.
Allison sat up, wrapped her arms around his chest, and pulled him back flat on the bed where she pressed in close and buried her face against his neck.
They stayed that way, saying nothing, until the alarm went off and she had to get up for work.
Tevyn followed. After a rendezvous with the toilet he pulled on a pair of pants and headed bleary eyed to the kitchen while Allison took a shower.
Eggs. Four. White and brown shells.
Pan. Medium non-stick.
He turned the pan on low, let the butter melt in it, cracked the eggs into the pan one-handed, and set the pan on the prep surface to cook.
Bread. Fresh. Cold from the refrigerator. He pulled out two slices and put the rest back.
He slathered the slices in butter and dropped them in the toaster.
Bacon. Four slices in the press-grill. Yogurt. One pint.
He laid the cold food out on the wall-mounted breakfast table along with plates and added the hot as it was ready.
Allison stepped out of the bedroom, still pulling on the top part of her blue doctor’s scrubs.
“Mmmmm. Bacon. Have I reminded you yet that I’m happy having you home?”
Tevyn smiled at her.
She kissed him on the mouth and sat down at the table.
“What are you going to eat?” she asked with a mischievous grin.
“I’ll have whatever’s left,” Tevyn said as he joined her.
She watched him, suddenly unsmiling.
Deliberately she shoveled two thirds of the food onto his plate and handed him his fork.
“Eat. Or I’ll be late.”
Tevyn held her gaze for a long moment, then started eating. Allison joined him once she was sure he’d keep going.
When he was halfway through she got up from a clean plate and stood next to him. When he looked up at her she kissed him until he rose and gathered her into his arms.
“Have a good day at work,” he said.
“I love you, big man,” she whispered in his ear.
“I love you too, short stuff.”
She smiled at him and went out through the door.
After she left Tevyn sat back down and stared at the uneaten food on his plate. Another smile lingered in his mind, erased forever in a white flash. Other voices shouted in his ear, drowned out in an unending roar.
He set the fork down on the plate and went to find a shirt.
Out in the hallway he decided to go for a walk, hoping to find something new that might help him forget. New Wall Street was more than large enough to offer that chance.
Tevyn and Allison Marsden lived in a cozy one-bedroom apartment built into the inner portion of the dome wall of the northern hemisphere of the station, about midway up. That wall, which separated the harsh vacuum of space from a bustling metropolis of fifteen million built like an open-air city, was a full three-hundred meters thick at its thinnest point, near where it joined with the northern control spindle three kilometers above the deck of New Wall Street City North.
Most of that was filled with apartment suites like the Marsdens’, ranging from modest one-bedrooms to huge thirty-room palaces, with the best suites located on the very inside where they could look down on the city below through one-way sapphire.
However, the outer 200 meters of the wall consisted of deck upon deck of farms with transparent bulkheads to let actual sunlight in on actual dirt, grass and cows. That meant a short jaunt down the hallway would bring Tevyn out into a mostly open space where he could get an actual view of his home star and a noseful of fresh compost, plants, and what seemed like every animal ever domesticated by man.
He had often taken advantage of that convenience, but today he decided he wanted to go further for his open spaces, and that meant the city. A few steps brought him to one of the elevator trams that served the wall apartments continuously. As soon as the next one arrived he stepped into the empty car and rode it the full 2.5 kilometers down to the city deck. There he disembarked into a crowded terminal full of people coming and going, rented a bicycle, and headed into the city along one of the elevated bikeways.
While the city started out short near the walls, Tevyn was quickly submerged in a canyon of marble, metal and sapphire faced monsters, each taller and more massive than the previous, all intent on reminding him of how tiny he was. After five kilometers of that he emerged suddenly into the open space of North Green, a ring shaped park of hills and ponds circling the central service pillar and containing nothing taller than a large tree. Station Services listed the size of the park at just under twelve square kilometers.
That was a lot of park to get lost in. Better yet, most of it smelled better than the farms.
Tevyn checked in his bike at the edge of the park and started down a tree lined pathway. Couples and groups and singles walked past him in either direction as he strolled along the black rubber road and listened to Hiro Asano calling out orders to a dying crew for at least an hour.
A buzz from his smartcomm woke him and he pulled the small black nuisance out of a pocket.
Meeting with GU Bank Rep. 10:00 local.
Tevyn swore softly and headed toward the center of the park at a jog.
The Galactic Union Banking Tower looked down on South Green park from the edge of city section S5, located on the flipside of the station and opposite Tevyn’s own section N41 on the circle. To get there he had to take a tram at the central pillar and ride it through the three-kilometer-thick industrial disk to South Green, then grab a bike outside the small terminal and ride as fast as he could to the edge of the park.
The tram ride was mostly zero-g and the rush through the park included a near-collision with a horse and rider.
He made it there three minutes late, feeling out of breath and slightly dizzy.
The gargantuan tower loomed over him with sapphire-faced arrogance that disdained the flashy logos and holo-ads sported by other buildings.
Galactic Union Banking was old, one of the few banks to survive the AI catastrophe with enough assets to recover. Admiral Oksanen had been a personal friend of one of the founding families. That had inclined the bank to extend him a certain amount of leeway that other debtors did not get.
Admiral Oksanen was dead.
Tevyn was not looking forward to this meeting.
This time the receptionist recognized him without help from her visor and immediately directed him up to Mr. Nagel’s office. He took the elevator up 23 floors and navigated the halls at the fastest walk he could muster. He gathered himself at the office door and knocked. It was far too late to fix the fact that he was wearing a turtleneck and cargo pants when he needed a suit.
Mr. Nagel called him in and gestured for him to sit. The small brown-haired American occupied a mahogany fortress equipped with an array of inset holo-displays. He immediately opened the file for Oksanen’s Dragons on one of them.
“Welcome back, Captain Marsden. You look winded. Did you have some trouble getting here?”
“I’m very sorry I’m late, Mr. Nagel.”
“Think nothing of it. I set aside a full hour so we can explore your current repayment options.”
The banker opened a terminal for Tevyn that copied his own view of the Dragon Fleet file.
“As you can see, your final liability is quite… considerable.”
Tevyn looked at the number showing him how much he owed the bank and blanched. It was more than he could earn in a lifetime working as a ship captain.
“I’m sorry that this is the case, but you are the last surviving shareholding captain of Oksanen’s Dragons and as per the contract that makes you the owner of the company, along with all its debts.” The short banker squirmed in his seat for a moment.
“Please note that this number represents your liability after all assessments to the estates of deceased shareholders are completed. It also considers the proceeds from the sale of remaining assets, including the sale of scrap from the remains of the fleet, but excepting your own ship, the S.A.M.S. Firedrake. We completed all sales last week, so those numbers are finalized. Do you understand so far?”
Tevyn nodded and he continued.
“The total also includes all the money that the insurance company agreed to pay. They tried to get out on a “contract bearer negligence” clause, but our team had dated copies of the intelligence and briefing package that the Transcendental Imperial Fleet provided Oksanen at the start of the mission, as well as copies of the mission plan that the TIF command team agreed to. It shows no indication of negligence in Dragon Fleet’s planning and the mission recorder from your ship shows that the mission went according to plan up until the additional Anjasne fleet elements revealed themselves. Further, the fact that the TI had far more fleet elements in the area than they listed in the report, and that they only stepped in after the Anjasne fleet had mostly destroyed Dragon fleet, points strongly to bad faith on their part. Braddock Insurance backed down when they saw they had no case.”
“What about the TIF contract?”
Mr. Nagel sighed. “That is the strange part. We presented the judge at the Sol Alliance Contract Court with all the same evidence our team used against the insurance company, but he still agreed with the TIF that your company failed to fulfil the mission requirements. We contended that the TIF contracted in bad faith, but the judge still decided for them. I talked to one of our lawyers directly and he said that the whole trial stank. I wouldn’t normally share something like that, but I want you to know that this was not the expected outcome.”
“Can I refile the case?”
“No one can stonewall like the Transcendental Imperium, and the Mercenary Board isn’t being at all helpful. My read on the situation is that the TIF has some kind of hold on the judge and members of the board. We aren’t expecting any change in the situation with a refile.”
Tevyn swallowed hard and nodded.
“I understand this must be very hard for you, Captain Marsden, especially with so many lives lost so recently. Considering the longstanding relationship this bank had with Admiral Oksanen, we have looked for as many ways as possible to provide his sole surviving Captain with a fair deal. I apologize that our efforts have only gotten you this far.”
Tevyn nodded and stared at a corner of the room. In his mind a cloud of broken ships filled with dead comrades floated amidst a triumphant TIF fleet as they finished off the Anjasne dreadnoughts they had suckered into attacking Dragon Fleet. According to Lieutenant Asano the Anjasne superdreadnought had fought it’s way free, but none of their other ships had made it.
The TI had the Targara system, but it had cost Dragon Fleet everything and Tevyn almost everything. And now they wouldn’t even pay their contract.
“If your ship were still functional I’m certain we could extend your repayment term, but our calculations show that there is simply no way that Dragon Fleet can get a good income flow going from its current state. Our best recommendation is that you sell the Firedrake. That should bring in enough money to cover the majority of your debt. If you agree to it, the bank will act as your agent in this matter as well and use every resource at our disposal to get you a good price. Do you agree to let Galactic Union Banking act as your sale agent?”
Tevyn nodded once.
Tevyn looked at him.
On the way back through the industrial disk Tevyn stopped off to see the Firedrake where she floated in one of the cavernous hangars. Extensive berthing, construction and repair docks riddled the massive section, some big enough to hold a superdreadnought, and Oksanen had kept year-long leases on several for Dragon Fleet to use as needed. All of those were canceled now, except for the berthing dock the Firedrake was stored in.
Tevyn stood at the public viewing window for that dock and stared at the giant scar in the starboard side of his ship. Seven other destroyers floated nearby in a neat, space saving arrangement, but his ship was the closest to the window and stood out for its wounds.
The nova beam had come in off-center, skewering the ops center before cutting its way out through the starboard side of the ship. The deadly spalling in the ops center had been the exception. In most places the beam had cut cleanly, and secondary explosions had been contained. Technically the ship was fixable, but the repairs would take a level of skill and resources that Tevyn couldn’t dream of affording.
“Which one are you looking at?”
Tevyn flinched and looked around. The gravity in most of the industrial disk, where there was gravity, tended to be low, barely Lunan, so footsteps could be very hard to hear.
A dark-haired caucasian man wearing gray electrician’s coveralls over a lightweight vac-suit stood next to him peering into the destroyer bay. The numerous pockets on his outfit were stuffed with tools, and a nano-welder and laser cutter balanced each other on his hips in opposed holsters.
“Who are you?”
The man looked over at him.
“Nick Whitefeather. Engineer. You?”
“Tevyn Marsden. Captain.”
“Which one are you looking at?”
Tevyn nodded toward his ship.
“S.A.M.S. Firedrake. My ship, for now.”
Nick scanned the ships in the bay until he spotted the Firedrake’s name glittering on her scarred armor.
“Sol Alliance Mercenary, huh? Dragon Fleet’s your company? Hull’s a Galacticorp design. One of their new spinal-focus destroyers, right? Nova or xray?”
“Structure looks sound from here. Got some laser cuts on the hull. Nasty gash. That come from a nova beam hit?”
Nick eyed it for a moment, then looked at Tevyn.
“You were on that ship when this happened?”
“I’m the Captain.”
Nick eyed him.
“God’s looking out for you. That nova hit should have killed your whole ship.”
Tevyn looked at his ship, then at the engineer.
“What do you mean?”
“That beam went right through your fore-starboard fusion plant. Your whole ship should have vaporized.”
Tevyn looked at his ship again and replayed the final damage report in his mind.
Fore-starboard fusion plant destroyed. Nick was right.
“We took a gamma hit a few minutes before the SDN shot us. It forced the plant into shutdown. It wasn’t on when it got destroyed. Lucky.”
Tevyn looked into the open wound, trying to spot the shattered fusion room.
Nick pursed his lips.
“What you call luck, some people call providence.” Nick paused a beat, then asked more slowly, “So, how many?”
Tevyn stared at Nick and studied his eyes. They didn’t flicker. Nick had the steady, open look of someone who had asked that question of captains many times before and waited as long as it took to get that most important question answered.
Tevyn turned back to his ship and was quiet for half a minute.
“Lost half my primary ops crew in the nova hit. Jody… damn. I lost my XO. She’s been sitting next to me for four years and now she’s gone. I got pinned to my chair by a hull splinter in the same hit. I couldn’t do anything after that.”
Tevyn glanced at Nick. The engineer was looking at the ship, listening.
“My tactical officer got us out of there. He did a damn good job, but we still lost another third of the crew to laser hits on the way out.”
Tevyn went quiet.
Nick waited next to him for a long time.
“I don’t know how Hiro got us out. Nobody else made it. Lost the entire company.”
“How big was Dragon Fleet?”
“A full battleship group.”
“That’s a lot of people,” Nick said.
“Over ten-thousand. The Anjasne came in hard and most of our ships were already plasma before anyone could make it to escape pods. The TIF picked up about two-thousand survivors. Mostly enlisted.”
“That’s out on the frontier, then. Any other captains make it back?”
Tevyn shook his head.
“So you got the company.”
Tevyn chuckled bitterly. “Yeah. All the debts.” He looked at Nick again. “Bank tells me I might be able to pay them off if I sell what’s left of the ship and work three lifetimes.”
Both of them stared at the ship in silence.
Nick sighed. “Sorry to hear all that. Look, I work for an engineering firm. Wildcat Customs. We do ship repairs sometimes. If you can get the money for materials, I’ll front you the money for repairs. No interest.”
“I don’t know where I’d get even that much.”
“Take my info anyway, just in case.” Nick pulled out his smartcomm and called up his business card.
Tevyn pulled out his own comm and Nick tapped it with his, transferring digital business cards between the devices.
“I have to go. I’m really sorry for your loss.”
Tevyn went back to staring at his ship.
Tevyn was waiting at the small dinner table in his apartment when Allison got home later that night. He had visited a farm store on the way back and picked up a whole chicken, which numerous datanet videos had shown him how to turn into a passable dinner.
Allison surveyed the grand meal and studied her husband.
“Thank you for dinner, hon.”
She sat down across from him and gripped his hand.
“How did it go with the bank?”
Tevyn drew in a deep breath.
“We will probably lose everything. We’ll definitely have to declare bankruptcy.”
She squeezed his hand.
“We’ll survive,” she said.
Tevyn looked into her green eyes.
She smiled at him and squeezed his hand harder.
That night, after Allison had gone to sleep, Tevyn rose and pulled out a stack of tap sheets and his smartcomm and spread all his financial information on the dinner table, along with lists of loan estimates, credit and investment reports, ship employment opportunities and Mercenary Board startup programs.
Somewhere he was going to find the money for materials.
If it existed.
(Continue to Chapter 4)